Today is National Black Cat Appreciation Day!
On Black Cat Appreciation Day, August 17, black cats could use a good spin doctor. They’re so sleek and seductive with their all-knowing yellow eyes, that black cats seldom get positive publicity even though they’re just as adorable as other cats. So, who’s to blame for this negative black cat spin? Superstition! During the Middle Ages, people (mainly the Catholic Church) saw witches as shape-shifting black cats and the damage was done.
Today, pop culture loves black cats. There’s the sarcastic Thackery Binx in “Hocus Pocus”, Salem, in “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and Pyewacket in the classic ”Bell, Book and Candle.” It’s National Black Cat Appreciation Day with big ups to America’s sultry, mysterious and mostly, sweet black cats!
In Other News . . .
Former Trump supporter Anthony Scaramucci is now predicting that Trump won’t be on the ballot in November 2020.
William D. Cohan interviewed Scaramucci for Vanity Fair: “Oh My God, This Jackass”: The Mooch Explains Why He Thinks Trump is “Crazy,” “Narcissistic,” and a “Paper Tiger” Who Will Drop Out By March 2020. Some highlights:
Cohan: But what was the moment the scales actually fell from your eyes?
Scaramucci: The red line was the racism—full-blown racism. He can say that he’s not a racist, and I agree with him, okay? And let me explain to you why he’s not a racist, ’cause this is very important. He’s actually worse than a racist. He is so narcissistic, he doesn’t see people as people. He sees them as objects in his field of vision. And so therefore, that’s why he has no empathy. That’s why he’s got his thumb up in the air when he’s taking a picture with an orphan. That’s why when someone’s leaning over the desk and asks [Nobel Prize–winning human rights activist Nadia Murad], “Well, what happened to your family members?”—they were murdered—he just looks at her and says, “Okay, when are we getting coffee here?”
You know, he doesn’t look at people—and by the way, if you and I were in his field of vision and he had a cold and the two of us had to die for him to get a Kleenex, you’re fucking dead. I mean, there’s no chance. You understand that, right?
Cohan: And then there’s the mental element, right?
Scaramucci: I think the guy is losing it, mentally. He has declining mental faculties; he’s becoming more petulant; he’s becoming more impetuous. Okay, you see just by the way he’s sweating, his body’s not doing well. It’s obviously not a guy that takes care of himself, right? And he doesn’t listen to anybody. And just think about this, okay? There’s no one—there’s no Jim Mattis; there’s no Gary Cohn; there’s no one to check him anymore. Whatever my differences were with General John Kelly, after he left, this thing has completely unspooled….
He’s gonna drop out of the race because it’s gonna become very clear. Okay, it’ll be March of 2020. He’ll likely drop out by March of 2020. It’s gonna become very clear that it’s impossible for him to win. And is this the kind of guy that’s gonna want to be that humiliated and lose as a sitting president? He’s got the self-worth in terms of his self-esteem of a small pigeon. It’s a very small pigeon. Okay. And so you think this guy’s gonna look at those poll numbers and say—he’s not gonna be able to handle that humiliation. And by the way, he is smart enough to know that that entire Congress hates his guts.
Of course Scaramucci isn’t the first to predict that Trump will have to drop out. Tom Joseph has been documenting Trump’s rapidly advancing dementia symptoms on Twitter for a long time now. Here’s his latest thread on the subject:
Check out his Twitter feed to read more.
Last Tuesday Trump gave a speech to union workers in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t supposed to be a campaign event, but he turned it into one. The Washington Post:
MONACA, Pa. — President Trump criticized the media, mocked his Democratic challengers, critiqued the Academy Awards, lamented losing money while president and boasted of his poll numbers while visiting a construction site here to give remarks about U.S. energy production.
The president spoke for more than an hour, meandering between his prepared remarks and a campaign-style speech listing grievances and currying votes. He touched on his 2016 victory in Pennsylvania, his love of trucks, “fake news,” China, trade, immigration, the Green New Deal, windmills, the Paris climate accord, former president Barack Obama’s $60 million book deal, Iran, veterans and New York energy policies.
Standing in a room full of construction workers in the middle of the day, many wearing their fluorescent work vests, Trump urged them to support his reelection and to convince their union leaders to do the same…..
Trump’s visit to Royal Dutch Shell’s Pennsylvania Petrochemical Complex here, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, was an official White House trip intended to promote the administration’s energy policies.
Yesterday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the workers were told they would have to attend the speech or lose a day’s pay. They were also ordered not to protest.
The choice for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant in Beaver County was clear Tuesday: Either stand in a giant hall waiting for President Donald Trump to speak or take the day off with no pay.
“Your attendance is not mandatory,” said the rules that one contractor relayed to employees, summarizing points from a memo that Shell sent to union leaders a day ahead of the visit to the $6 billion construction site. But only those who showed up at 7 a.m., scanned their ID cards, and prepared to stand for hours — through lunch but without lunch — would be paid.
That company and scores of other contractors on site and their labor employees all have their own contracts with Shell. Several said the contracts stipulate that to get paid, workers must be onsite.
Those who decided not to come to the site for the event would have an excused but non-paid absence, the company said, and would not qualify for overtime pay on Friday.
Shell spokesman Ray Fisher explained that the workers onsite have a 56-hour workweek, with 16 hours of overtime built in. That means those workers who attended Mr. Trump’s speech and showed up for work Friday, meeting the overtime threshold, were being paid at a rate of time and a half, while those who didn’t go to hear the president were being paid the regular rate, despite the fact that both groups did not do work on the site Tuesday.
Show up to cheer for Trump or lose a day’s pay and overtime to boot.
Yesterday, The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush reported that President Obama tried to caution Joe Biden about running for president in 2020 and has been warning Biden that he needs younger advisers.
The two men spoke at least a half dozen times before Mr. Biden decided to run, and Mr. Obama took pains to cast his doubts about the campaign in personal terms.
“You don’t have to do this, Joe, you really don’t,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Biden earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the exchange.
Mr. Biden — who thinks he could have defeated Donald Trump four years ago — responded by telling Mr. Obama he could never forgive himself if he turned down a second shot at Mr. Trump.
Mr. Obama has said he will not make an endorsement in the primary, and has offered every candidate his counsel. But he has taken an active interest in the inner workings of his friend’s campaign, to an extent beyond anything offered to other candidates.
In his interactions with Mr. Biden — the pair had a quiet lunch in Washington last month — Mr. Obama has hammered away at the need for his campaign to expand his aging inner circle.
He has communicated his frustration that Mr. Biden’s closest advisers are too old and out of touch with the current political climate — urging him to include more younger aides, according to three Democrats with direct knowledge of the discussion.
Biden also met with Biden’s advisers and issued a warning:
In March, Mr. Obama took the unusual step of summoning Mr. Biden’s top campaign advisers, including the former White House communications director Anita Dunn and Mr. Biden’s longtime spokeswoman, Kate Bedingfield, to his Washington office for a briefing on the campaign’s digital and communications strategy with members of his own staff, including his senior adviser, Eric Schultz.
When they were done, Mr. Obama offered a pointed reminder, according to two people with knowledge of his comments:
Win or lose, they needed to make sure Mr. Biden did not “embarrass himself” or “damage his legacy” during the campaign.
Well Biden has already put his foot in his mouth numerous times, but he’s still leading in the polls. I can only hope voters will wake up before the primaries begin.
Yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu banned Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from traveling to Israel, after he was egged on by Trump. Later in the day, Netanyau told Tlaib she could come to visit her grandmother who lives in the occupied West Bank, with certain restrictions on her freedom of speech. Tlaib declined to accept the conditions. Now Democrats in the House are considering an official response.
Senior Democratic members of Congress are considering action against top emissaries of the Israeli government and the Trump administration for their roles in Israel’s decision to bar two House members from entering the country.
About a dozen lawmakers, including senior Jewish members, began discussions on Friday morning over ways to communicate a “deep lack of confidence and trust” in Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
The group is weighing issuing a statement of no confidence in Dermer and opening an inspector general investigation into Friedman’s conduct, the sources said.
Israel banned Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from a planned visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, provoking outrage among Democrats and several Republicans, including some who have harshly criticized the two lawmakers on policy grounds.
So . . . that’s it for me. what stories are you following today?
Where to begin? We’re still seeing the fallout from the news that broke yesterday about the late July predawn raid on Paul Manafort’s Virginia home, Trump is threatening war with North Korea and feuding with Mitch McConnell, and more info is coming out about the latest frightening climate change report, and the White House is just as chaotic as ever despite John Kelly’s efforts. I have no doubt that more crazy news will break before I finish this post.
I’ll start with the Manafort raid followup. First, it was a “no-knock” raid according to Jim Sciutto of CNN.
That means that the Special Counsel convinced a judge that Manafort might destroy evidence if he knew the FBI was at his front door. I guess it also means the FBI broke down his door. That’s huge.
From Just Security: FBI Search of Paul Manafort’s Home: What Does It Really Mean?
Mueller’s use of a search warrant tells us that he was able to establish on the basis of evidence, and to the satisfaction of a United States Magistrate-Judge, that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of a specific crime or crimes existed in the location to be searched. That standard is significantly higher than what is required to obtain a grand jury subpoena, which can be used to obtain any evidence that a grand jury (under the direction of a prosecutor) decides will be helpful to their investigation. Mueller’s resort to a search warrant shows, therefore, that his investigation has advanced, has identified specific potential crimes, and is zeroing in on key evidence. Since it was Manafort’s house that was searched, it is likely that he is implicated in the crimes, but that is not necessarily the case. Further, it should be clear that just because Mueller has now reached this stage in the investigation, it does not necessarily mean that Manafort or anybody else will be ultimately charged with crimes.
Now why did Mueller use a search warrant instead of a subpoena, particularly since Manafort’s attorney says that they have been cooperating with the investigation all along? I can think of four possible reasons for Mueller’s move (none of which are mutually exclusive).
Read the reasons at the link. Following the revelation of the raid, journalists and twitter users looked at the timeline of events and found some interesting Trump connections.
In light of the news about the raid of Manafort’s home, Trump’s tweets on the day of July 26 are of renewed interest. That was the day Trump abruptly posted a string of tweets announcing “that the United States government will not accept or allow [t]ransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” Last Friday, Politico reported that Trump’s declaration stunned White House and Department of Defense lawyers who had warned him against such a ban.
But more directly of interest are factually inaccurate tweets Trump posted later that day asking why Attorney General Jeff Sessions hadn’t moved to replace then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
This morning, Fox News reported more evidence that Trump likely knew about the raid on the morning it happened: Trump lawyer slams special counsel for ‘gross abuse’ in Manafort raid, challenges warrant.
A top lawyer for President Trump slammed the special counsel’s office over the FBI raid of former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s Virginia home, accusing investigators of committing a “gross abuse of the judicial process” for the sake of “shock value” – and employing tactics normally seen “in Russia not America.”
Trump attorney John Dowd leveled the complaints in an email sent to a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote about the Manafort raid. The email was obtained by Fox News.
The email reflects Trump’s legal team moving to protect the president, amid speculation that the raid could be part of a broader effort to squeeze Manafort for information on Trump.
Dowd, in his note, questioned the validity of the search warrant itself, calling it an “extraordinary invasion of privacy.” Dowd said Manafort already was looking to cooperate with congressional committees and said the special counsel never requested the materials from Manafort.
If Manafort informed Trump’s lawyers about the raid, they probably told Trump himself.
More on Mueller’s investigation of Manafort, and likely efforts to get him to flip on Trump:
Federal investigators sought cooperation from Paul Manafort’s son-in-law in an effort to increase pressure on President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, according to three people familiar with the probe.
Investigators approached Jeffrey Yohai, who has partnered in business deals with Manafort, earlier this summer, setting off “real waves” in Manafort’s orbit, one of these people said. Another of these people said investigators are trying to get “into Manafort’s head.”
Manafort, who is a focus of the broad federal and congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, is also under investigation for his business and real estate transactions, including some that involve Yohai.
That probe has accelerated in recent weeks, according to one of the people familiar with it….
It is unclear if investigators have secured cooperation from Yohai, who also hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. A lawyer for Yohai didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mueller’s team of investigators has sent subpoenas in recent weeks from a Washington grand jury to global banks for account information and records of transactions involving Manafort and some of his companies, as well as those of a long-time business partner, Rick Gates, according to people familiar with the matter.
The special counsel has also reached out to other business associates, including Manafort’s son-in-law and a Ukrainian oligarch, according to one of the people. Those efforts were characterized as an apparent attempt to gain information that could be used to squeeze Manafort, or force him to be more helpful to prosecutors.
As prosecutors gather many years of information about his financial affairs, Manafort could be dragged deeper into any number of legal disputes. He has a history of doing business with oligarchs and politicians in Ukraine and Russia that predates his political work for Trump, with payments routed through foreign banks and investments in U.S. real estate….
Part of the reason Manafort is getting intense early scrutiny is that Mueller is drawing on investigations that were well underway, including one by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, when he was appointed in May.
With prosecutors combing through his financial life, the 68-year-old has been toeing a fine line, cooperating with congressional requests for information about the campaign, and insisting he has nothing to hide from Mueller’s team of prosecutors who are delving into his past. Privately, his supporters question Mueller’s work to unearth conduct with no apparent connection to the 2016 election.
North Korea appears to be winning the war of words with Trump.
The Atlantic: North Korea Answers Trump’s Vague Threats With Specific Ones.
President Trump seemed to draw a red line Tuesday when he warned North Korea that continued threats against the United States would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The next day, North Korea crossed it.
Or at least it announced, in unusually specific terms, how it could. The country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday night issued a statement that said the North is “seriously examining the plan for an enveloping strike at Guam through simultaneous fire of four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets in order to interdict the enemy forces on major military bases on Guam and to signal a crucial warning to the U.S.” The statement, citing the North’s Strategic Rocket Forces head General Kim Rak Gyom, added that the plan would be finished by mid-August before going to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for approval.
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” the general said, in apparent reference to Trump, whose ultimatum he described as a “load of nonsense.”
The announcement, coming a day after the North threatened Guam in vaguer terms, is stunning not only as an escalation, but also for the level of detail with which it describes the proposed strike. The statement spells out the number of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that would be involved (four), how far they would fly (approximately 2,085 miles), their exact flight path (they would traverse the three Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima, and Koichi), plus how long all of this would take (about 20 minutes), and the earliest the plan would be ready (mid-August, so, conservatively, within a few days). And it takes care to specify that the end point of the missiles is not Guam itself, but the waters off its eastern coast (18 to 25 miles off, to be exact).
Jeffrey Lewis at Foreign Policy: The Game Is Over and North Korea Has Won.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea has a large stockpile of compact nuclear weapons that can arm the country’s missiles, including its new intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting the United States. That’s another way of saying: game over.
Also: I told you so.
There are really two assessments in the Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press. Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed.
These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial. Both intelligence assessments are consistent with what the North Koreans have been saying for some time, for reasons I outlined in a column here at Foreign Policy immediately after the September 2016 nuclear test titled, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think: This is now a serious nuclear arsenal that threatens the region and, soon, the continental United States.”
Continue reading at Foreign Policy.
On the Trump-McConnell spat:
A burgeoning feud between President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could have significant ramifications for the GOP’s once-ambitious policy agenda.
Analysts say the war of words could be another stumbling block for various Republican plans after limited success in their first seven months of power in Washington.
“The Trump/McConnell war of words has zero upside for the GOP agenda and is potentially limit-down,” Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group. “It is breathtaking in its dysfunctionality.”
Isaac Boltansky, a political analyst at the research firm Compass Point, told Business Insider that the words are a stark example of the divide that exists between the two.
“I think the state of political rhetoric is concerning for both the GOP’s legislative agenda and the fiscal deadlines in September,” Isaac Boltansky, a political analyst at the research firm Compass Point, told Business Insider. “Trump and McConnell are linchpins in the legislative process, and these comments suggest a deep divide in both tone and substance.”The cracks are starting to show at a critical time for the GOP agenda, as necessary deadlines and a massive tax reform fight loom on the horizon.
Read more at the BI link.
White House Insanity Updates
New York Magazine: Sebastian Gorka Thinks the Minnesota Mosque Attack May Have Been a False Flag.
In the early morning hours of August 5, someone hurled an improvised explosive device at a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota. None of the roughly 20 early morning worshippers were injured, but the blast broke windows and began a small fire, filling the building with smoke. The mosque’s executive director told a local TV station that “one of our congregation members came out immediately and he saw a truck fleeing from the parking lot, running at very high speed.” The FBI is investigating; no arrests have been made. On Sunday, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton called the attack “an act of terrorism.”
But the response from the Trump administration has been predictable yet disturbing: almost complete silence. President Trump has not issued a statement or tweeted about the Minnesota attack, preferring to direct his attention to other pressing matters, like Senator Richard Blumenthal’s Vietnam record. (The Department of Homeland Security did issue a strong statement condemning the attack.)
In a Tuesday appearance on MSNBC, Nazi-ish quasi–White House adviser Sebastian Gorka put forth a bizarre justification for the radio silence: The attack, you see, may have been perpetrated by the left.
“There’s a great rule: All initial reports are false,” Gorka said. (Editor’s note: This is a terrible rule.) “You have to check them; you have to find out who the perpetrators are,” Gorka continued. “We’ve had a series of crimes committed — alleged hate crimes by right-wing individuals in the last six months — that turned out to actually have been propagated by the left. So let’s wait and see, let’s allow the local authorities to provide their assessments, and then the White House will make its comments.” Responding to Stephanie Ruhle’s assertion that Trump had no problem immediately commenting on a London terror attack in June, Gorka countered that it was obvious in that case who the perpetrators were — ignoring the fact that Trump tweeted out a Drudge Report story written before any facts were known. Ruhle also made the eminently reasonable point that “you don’t have to make a statement about who did it, but you can make a public statement about how terrible it would be to attack a building of worship.” “That’s fine,” Gorka responded unconvincingly. “And I’m sure the president will do that.”
Anthony Scaramucci is no longer in the White House, but he’s still making news. The Washington Post: The Mooch as Monica Lewinsky? Scaramucci’s saga keeps getting stranger.
Anthony Scaramucci keeps complaining about the interview that cost him his job as White House communications director. And in doing so, he keeps betraying how amateur it was that the White House ever hired him.
When the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza first reported on Scaramucci’s vulgar comments about his then-White House colleagues two weeks ago, Scaramucci said he would tone down the language. He then apparently decided to get a little more combative, suggesting the interview wasn’t meant to be published and that a fellow Italian American like Lizza should have known he was just B.S.-ing.
And now that Lizza published additional comments from the interview Wednesday, Scaramucci is trying a new tack: Accusing Lizza of recording him without his knowledge by comparing him to a figure from the Bill Clinton sex scandal, Linda Tripp.
Go to the WaPo to read the whole ridiculous story.
I’ll get to the climate change news in the comment thread. This post is way too long.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
This week is on track to be as insane as last week in the Trump White House. Yesterday retired general John Kelly was sworn in as chief of staff, replacing Reince Priebus. Kelly apparently accepted the job from hell on the conditions that the entire WH staff would report to him and on the dismissal of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. But those stories were eclipsed last night by a Washington Post story about how Donald Trump Jr.’s initial statement about his June 9, 2016, meeting with Russian government representatives was formulated.
The Washington Post: Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer.
On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.
The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.
But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.
Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” [….]
The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.
As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.
Trump’s direct involvement in composing his son’s false statement could be more evidence of obstruction of justice.
Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.
Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.
“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.” [….]
Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.
That’s idiotic. Even if there is no underlying crime, which is unlikely, Trump’s behavior demonstrates obstruction–and that’s a separate crime
This morning NBC news has more details on the Scaramucci firing: What Really Happened to Anthony Scaramucci.
Two sources close to President Donald Trump said Scaramucci’s profane remarks last week to The New Yorker magazine “disgusted” and “offended” some close to the president, including Melania Trump, and — crucially — Ivanka Trump, who had initially advocated for Scaramucci’s hiring.
Scaramucci was ousted Monday, the first day on the job for Trump’s new chief of staff, the retired Marine general John Kelly.
One source said both Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner supported Kelly and his move to dismiss Scaramucci.
And it wasn’t just the expletive-filled interview: Some in the West Wing believe Scaramucci overplayed his hand altogether, believing he could do no wrong in the eyes of the president.
While the White House didn’t initially decry Scaramucci’s vulgar comments to The New Yorker, by Friday the president was getting an earful from confidantes outside the administration. The blowback built. Even for a president who’s no stranger to salty language, Scaramucci’s interview, with its f-bombs and anatomical references, apparently came off as too lowbrow.
By mid-morning on Monday, Scaramucci was sacked and Kelly, a 40-year Marine, had conveyed to the rest of the staff that the chain of command now runs through him.
Any bets on how long that will last? Can Kelly really block Ivanka and Jared from walking into the oval office?
John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton offered advice to Kelly: don’t take the job. The Washington Post: The best advice I could have given to John Kelly: Don’t do it!
First, discipline. There’s no doubt the decision to replace Reince Priebus with Kelly was based on the hope that a former four-star Marine general could get this menagerie in line. You don’t have to compare the Trump White House to no-drama Obama or the buttoned-down Bush operations to know there is simply no precedent in modern history for the current White House culture of factionalism, infighting and lack of respect among senior staff members. Of course, most of Trump’s team are simply modeling their behavior on that of the boss. His demeaning treatment of Priebus and Attorney General Jeff Sessions signals that there are no boundaries in Trumpland, leading to the unprofessional actions of now-former communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Indeed, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed the public that the president “encourages” such behavior.
Kelly is walking into a White House that looks more like a cock fight than an episode of “The West Wing.” (See Mooch, you can use that word without being profane.) The White House culture will have to be shaken to its core. Kelly must be able to fire anyone at will, including to enforce a no-tolerance policy for behavior unbecoming a senior government official. Scaramucci’s departure Monday is a good start, but Kelly will have to keep a tight rein on a White House staff that is used to few boundaries. And if there is going to be an exception for Trump’s relatives, Kelly should get an explicit commitment that even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump report through him — no end arounds.
The most difficult discipline problem for Kelly, though, will not be the staff but Trump himself. Early signs are not auspicious. The day after appointing Kelly, Trump ranted on Twitter against Senate Republicans for failure to pass their horrific health-care bill, which would have denied care to millions of Americans and raised costs for millions more. I have no doubt that Kelly, unlike Priebus, can say no to power, but whether power will listen is another matter.
Read about Kelly’s two other major tasks at the WaPo link.
Trump spent the weekend trolling Senate Republicans for their failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but Politico reports that Trump’s tweets aren’t having much effect: Republicans ignore Trump’s Obamacare taunts.
Senate Republicans have no plans to revive their party-line attempts to repeal Obamacare this summer, despite President Donald Trump’s increasing frustration over the chamber’s failed attempts last week to gut the law.
“Until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it’s over,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican. “Maybe lightning will strike and something will come together but I’m not holding my breath.” [….]
For one, they’re down one vote in the short term, with Sen. John McCain being treated for cancer in Arizona.
But as the collapse of the repeal effort in the Senate last week showed, even with McCain the GOP majority is so narrow that it may never be possible to pass major, partisan health care reform through the chamber. That increasingly appears to be the case despite White House efforts to promote a bill by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would send federal health care funding to the states in the form of block grants.
Privately, Republican aides said there is essentially no chance McConnell will take another shot at repealing Obamacare soon. On Monday, there was discussion among Senate staffers of a “hard pivot to tax reform,” one Senate aide said.
Foreign Policy reports that Jared Kushner made “off the record remarks” to Congressional interns yesterday, and they quickly obtained notes from the meeting. Anyone who doesn’t believe Kusher is the leaker, please raise your hand.
Donald Trump’s election team could not have colluded with Russia because they were barely talking to each other, according to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top White House advisor.
“They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” Kushner told congressional interns during a private talk at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington on Monday afternoon….
A source provided a copy of written notes on Kushner’s talk and question-and-answer session to Foreign Policy.
For investigators attempting to determine whether Trump’s associates knowingly worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a defense claiming chaos and confusion might be the key difference between criminal behavior and incompetence.
As chaos reigns in the White House, Russia is continuing to threaten its neighbors. The New York Times: Russia’s Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression.
WASHINGTON — Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir V. Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.
The troops are conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The drills will feature a reconstituted armored force named for a storied Soviet military unit, the First Guards Tank Army. Its establishment represents the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that so much offensive power has been concentrated in a single command.
The military exercise, planned for many months, is not a reaction to sweeping new economic sanctions on Russia that Congress passed last week. So far, Russia has retaliated against the sanctions by forcing the expulsion of several hundred employees in American diplomatic posts in the country.
But the move is part of a larger effort by Mr. Putin to shore up Russia’s military prowess, and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia. Beyond Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election in support of the Trump campaign, which has seized attention in the United States, its military has in recent years deployed forces to Syria, seized Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine, rattled the Baltic States with snap exercises and buzzed NATO planes and ships.
Read more details at the link.
Finally, Talking Points Memo has an interesting post about Trump’s Russian mafia pal Felix Stater: Stinger Missiles And Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner To Trump Has A Tall Tale To Tell.
In December 2015, an Associated Press reporter asked Donald Trump why he had appointed Felix Sater, a man who’d been convicted for stock fraud, his senior advisor. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told the AP. “I’m not that familiar with him.”
The feeling is not mutual.
“My last Moscow deal [for the Trump Organization] was in October of 2015,” Sater recalled. “It didn’t go through because obviously he became President.” Sater had told the New York Times that he was working on the deal that fall, but over the course of several conversations with TPM, he gave a slightly more detailed timeline. “Once the campaign was really going-going, it was obvious there were going to be no deals internationally,” Sater said. “We were still working on it, doing something with it, November-December.”
That deal was for “The Trump Tower, to develop in Moscow.” It was a similar proposition to the one Trump himself tried to broker with the Agalarovs, a family of vastly wealthy Russian oligarchs who brought Miss Universe 2013 to Moscow and were behind the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the President’s oldest son and an attorney said to work for the Russian government. Sater said he never worked with the Agalarovs on a Moscow deal for Trump, but did work with others who he declined to name. Those aren’t Sater’s connections, he said. “That’s not me. I don’t work with them and I’ve never worked with them.” When asked who he was working with, Sater chuckled. “A couple of people I’d like to continue working with, and that’s why I don’t want their names in the newspaper. People say, ‘I care about you and love you but why do I need my name in the press?’”
The Trump Organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TPM. But to understand Trump and the type of people his real estate empire did business, it’s worth trying to understand Sater, the Russian-American émigré whose connections span not only the worlds of Russian and Italian organized crime—which Sater said are in part a result of not being able to find legitimate work after two criminal convictions—but the FBI and, now, the presidency.
Read the whole thing at TPM.
What stories are you following this morning?
I know I’ve said this before, but it’s more true than ever: I don’t know how much more Trump bullshit I can take. This past week may have been the worst yet; how much worse can it get? I’m afraid that it can and will get a whole lot worse.
Last night Brian Williams ran this video that briefly summarizes the events of the past week. It feels to me as though Trump’s horrific speech to the boy scouts was a long time ago, but no. It was just a few action-packed days ago.
Oh, and this morning we learned that North Korea’s ICBM could reach Los Angeles or even Chicago. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Based on current information, today’s missile test by North Korea could easily reach the US West Coast, and a number of major US cities.
Reports say that North Korea again launched its missile on a very highly lofted trajectory, which allowed the missile to fall in the Sea of Japan rather than overflying Japan. It appears the ground range of the test was around 1,000 km (600 miles), which put it in or close to Japanese territorial waters. Reports also say the maximum altitude of the launch was 3,700 km (2,300 miles) with a flight time of about 47 minutes.
If those numbers are correct, the missile flown on a standard trajectory the missile would have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation.
However, the rotation of the Earth increases the range of missiles fired eastward, depending on their direction. Calculating the range of the missile in the direction of some major US cities gives the approximate results in Table 1.
Table 1 shows that Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and that Boston and New York may be just within range. Washington, D.C. may be just out of range.
It is important to keep in mind that we do not know the mass of the payload the missile carried on this test. If it was lighter than the actual warhead the missile would carry, the ranges would be shorter than those estimated above.
Many news outlets published stories about how bad the week was, often including even more horrible events that The 11th Hour video left out. Raw Story included the Anthony Scaramucci clusterfuck:
Thursday. New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci started off his day by delivering a rambling interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo in which he compared himself and Reince Priebus to Cain and Abel.
Later in the day, the New Yorkerpublished an interview with Scaramucci in which the new White House official ranted about Priebus — calling him a “f*cking paranoid schizophrenic” — and top White House political strategist Steve Bannon, whom he said regularly tries to “suck his own c*ck.” In the same interview, Scaramucci threatened to fire the entire White House communications staff, while vowing to “kill all the f*cking leakers” within the Trump administration.
Oh, and have you heard? Scaramucci’s wife has filed for divorce because of the relationship with Trump, according to gossip site Page Six:
Deidre Ball, who worked as a vice president in investor relations for SkyBridge Capital, the firm he founded in 2005 and sold to ascend to the White House, has filed for divorce from “The Mooch” after three years of marriage after getting fed up with his ruthless quest to get close to President Trump, whom she despises.
One source told Page Six, “Deidre has left him and has filed for divorce. She liked the nice Wall Street life and their home on Long Island, not the insane world of D.C. She is tired of his naked ambition, which is so enormous that it left her at her wits’ end. She has left him even though they have two children together.”
Scaramucci and Ball, 38, began dating in 2011 and are believed to have married in 2014.
The week had almost ended when the Twitter item crossed. Minutes before quitting time, less than an hour after the markets closed: Gen. John Kelly named White House chief of staff.
The secretary of Homeland Security was replacing Reince Priebus at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
After about six months and a week, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee had been removed as the No. 1 aide to President Trump….
Priebus had been embattled almost from the beginning. He was said to be at odds with senior adviser Steve Bannon, to be less than close to first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
He was too old school, too Midwestern, too conventional. When Anthony Scaramucci arrived as the new White House director of communications in mid-July, he was reporting directly to the president — not to Priebus. Bad sign.
So in Washington, among those who watch the White House, there could be little surprise. And yet the spectacle of the chief of staff sitting alone in a van in the rain at Joint Base Andrews on Friday evening — detailed in a pool report — was still, somehow, shocking.
We don’t know yet how Priebus found out. Did he read it on Twitter?
HuffPost included more about Trump’s trolling of Jeff Sessions. Yes, that was on Monday of this week.
Trump attacked Sessions again — this time in a newspaper interview [Tuesday]. The president told The Wall Street Journal that he’s “very disappointed” in Sessions, but stopped short of saying he’ll fire the early Trump loyalist.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Then on Wednesday:
For the third day in a row, Trump publicly humiliated his attorney general and the Justice Department. This time, the president questioned Sessions’ decision to not fire Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and falsely claimed McCabe’s wife had accepted a campaign donation from Hillary Clinton.
The Financial Times weighs in: Trump’s week staggers from bad to worse.
It was the week that Donald Trump’s new communications director was meant to reset the White House after six turbulent months. Instead, the fight-to-the-death between Anthony Scaramucci and chief of staff Reince Priebus framed a week that shed the harshest light yet on the chaos at the heart of the administration.
From Mr Trump’s tweeted attacks on his own attorney-general to the resignation of Mr Priebus, days of rolling controversy have shown up the divisions wracking the senior levels of his team and reinforced concerns about the trajectory of his presidency.
Having once welcomed Mr Trump’s November victory for putting the levers of American power in Republican hands, conservatives now are aghast at the disarray threatening the president’s agenda.
While the week of rancour was bookended by the departure of Mr Priebus on Friday afternoon, its lowest point may have come in the early hours of the day when Republican senator John McCain, suffering from cancer, cast the vote that killed the president’s dream of repealing Obamacare after weeks of Republican wrangling over the plans.
“I don’t think there’s a clear understanding of what the party is any more and what it stands for,” said Adam Brandon, head of FreedomWorks, a conservative group with close ties to the lawmakers.
The LA Times focused on the health care debacle: The week the wheels fell off in Trump’s Washington.
For six months and change, the Trump administration has careened down a bumpy road, seldom far from a crash. This week, the wheels fell off.
The precise moment could be seen on nationwide television by anyone still awake — 1:29 a.m. in Washington, as Sen. John McCain of Arizona walked to the well of the Senate, stood in front of the clerk’s desk, stretched out his right arm and turned down his thumb, squashing the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare.
For Trump, who had campaigned loudly, but ineffectually, for the repeal, the defeat jeopardized an entire legislative agenda. It came toward the end of a week in which his administration had never felt weaker or more riven with self-defeating factions.
More at the link.
We’ll probably learn more over the weekend about what happened with Priebus, but here’s one cringe-inducing anecdote about Trump’s methods of torture from The Washington Post:
Trump’s demeaning of Priebus came through in other ways, too. At one point, during a meeting in the Oval Office, a fly began buzzing overhead, distracting the president. As the fly continued to circle, Trump summoned his chief of staff and tasked him with killing the insect, according to someone familiar with the incident. (The West Wing has a regular fly problem.)
Click on the link to read much more about the Trump gang’s sadistic behavior.
That’s all I have for you today. I know this isn’t much of a post, but I was too exhausted after this hellish week to do any more. What stories are you following?
I’m still reading The Devil’s Bargain, the new book on Trump and Steve Bannon by Joshua Green. I should have finished it by now, but there has been so much news the last few days that I’ve been riveted to the internet and TV instead. Actually, yesterday I was struggling to concentrate on anything. This Trump nightmare is really getting to me. I need to find better ways to cope without completely zoning out.
Anyway, the book is both fascinating and horrifying. It turns out that Trump’s great wall was an idea that came from Roger Stone and his protege Sam Nunberg. They came up with the concept because they were trying to find a way to keep their cognitively impaired candidate talking about immigration.
Trump was vehemently pro-immigration back in 2012 when he attacked Mitt Romney for pushing “self-deportation.” Trump’s entire anti-immigration message was nothing but a carnival stunt to attract the rubes. And Bannon is the one who got Trump to keep talking about it. Trump wasn’t even interested in “the wall” until he brought it up in a speech at the January 2015 Iowa Freedom Summit and the audience went wild. So Bannon was a huge influence even back then.
I don’t know why I’m still shocked by this kind of cynicism, but I am. I wonder if Trump actually believed any of the garbage that comes out of his oddly misshapen mouth.
Now Trump has hired a new “communication director” who could be even more flamboyantly cynical–and stupid–than his boss. He’s not even supposed to be on the job yet, but he’s already making a very public fool of himself. Last night he sent out a tweet (now deleted) in which he seemed to accused Reince Priebus of leaking his publicly available financial disclosure form. Then this morning he called into CNN and ranted for about 30 minutes about White House leaks.
White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Wednesday he will contact federal agencies over the “leak” of his financial disclosures, which he called a “felony,” despite the forms being publicly accessible.
“In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45” Scaramucci tweeted late Wednesday.
The tweet followed POLITICO’s publication of Scaramucci’s financial disclosures filed in the course of his employment with the Export-Import Bank. The documents are publicly available on request.
Scaramucci subsequently deleted the tweet and replaced it with another disavowing widespread speculation that his message implied that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus should be investigated. “Wrong! Tweet was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks. @Reince 45.”
Speaking to CNN’s New Day co-host Chris Cuomo Thursday morning, Scaramucci acknowledged that the documents are available publicly but still denounced leaks.
Read CNN’s report on Scaramucci’s embarrassing call-in: Scaramucci: ‘If Reince wants to explain he’s not a leaker, let him do that.’
An even better and more succinct report in a thread from Yashar Ali on Twitter. Head over to Twitter to read the whole thing.
Also see this piece by Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Anthony Scaramucci Is Unclear on the Concept of the Legal System.
Despite possessing a degree from Harvard Law School, Anthony Scaramucci does not seem to possess an understanding of basic principles of the Anglo-American legal tradition. First, Scaramucci accused putative chief of staff and Scaramucci blood-rival Reince Priebus of having illegally leaked his disclosure form. (The leak was not illegal and turns out to have been a public disclosure notice.) Scaramucci’s embarrassment at this gaffe has not discouraged him from pursuing a quasi-judicial purge.
The new White House communications director has gone on television to boast that he is interfering with the justice system in violation of written rules:
More at the NY Mag. link.
Scaramucci’s outrage is over the revelation that he has a serious conflict of interest, because he is currently trying to sell his hedge fund business to a Chinese conglomerate and would need administration approval to do so. Here’s the original story at Politico: Scaramucci still stands to profit from SkyBridge from the White House.
Anthony Scaramucci finally has his White House job, but he still stands to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital.
The incoming White House communications director earned $4.9 million from his ownership stake in SkyBridge in addition to more than $5 million in salary between Jan. 1, 2016, and the end of June, when he joined the Export-Import Bank, according to a financial disclosure filed with the Office of Government Ethics….
The disclosure highlights the extensive wealth Scaramucci has accumulated in his career — much like many of Trump’s other top advisers and Cabinet secretaries — and also the challenge he faces in extracting himself from the potential conflicts his investments could pose.
The SkyBridge website continues to advertise Scaramucci as the firm’s managing director, despite the fact that he has been a government employee for more than a month. Speaking of a website, to make your website on the top of search results, consider the SEO services of Big Vision Marketing. A SkyBridge spokeswoman said Scaramucci stepped down from the executive post Jan. 17, when the company’s sale was announced. He remained an employee of the firm, collecting a salary, until starting at Ex-Im last month.
The investment firm, which Scaramucci founded in 2005, is in the process of being sold to RON Transatlantic and Chinese conglomerate HNA Group. The sale, set in motion in January when Scaramucci was shedding his holdings in anticipation of landing an administration job, has drawn the scrutiny of regulators and is taking longer than expected to close.
The interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is examining the deal to ensure that it carries no risk to national security. The panel’s review, which comes amid ramped-up scrutiny of business dealings with China, ultimately can be overruled by President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Trump himself just committed another impeachable offense by attempting to blackmail Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the citizens of Alaska through his Interior Secretary. From Alaska Dispatch News: Trump administration threatens retribution against Alaska over Murkowski health votes.
President Donald Trump isn’t going to just let go of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s no vote on Tuesday’s health care.
Early Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter to express displeasure with Murkowski’s vote. By that afternoon, each of Alaska’s two Republican senators had received a phone call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke letting them know the vote had put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.
The response follows Trump’s no-holds-barred style of governing, even when it comes to his own party. It is his first strike of retaliation against Murkowski, however, despite her tendency to stray from the party line and the president’s priorities.
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the call from Zinke heralded a “troubling message.”
“I’m not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop,” Sullivan said.
“I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans. … We’re facing some difficult times and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear,” Sullivan said. The Interior secretary also contacted Murkowski, he said.
Can this administration get any more chaotic? My guess is that, with Trump and Scaramucci working together, the answer is yes. Keep in mind that lesser chaos agent Steve Bannon was strongly opposed to the hiring of Scaramucci. He’s also opposed to firing Jeff Sessions, but apparently Trump family members are all for it, and Trump has forgotten all about the risks Sessions too by endorsing him early on. Check out this Business Insider article: Bannon convinced Jeff Sessions to endorse Trump, and Sessions worried his career in the Republican Party might end because of it.
As Joshua Green wrote in “Devil’s Bargain,” Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, was unsure if Trump could secure the Republican nomination, and knew that being the first senator to endorse Trump could further curtail his political future if Trump, the Republican frontrunner at the time, lost.
The day before Sessions endorsed Trump at a Madison, Alabama rally in February 2016, then-Breitbart News chairman Bannon told Sessions that it was “do or die” time and that “this is the moment” to endorse.
“Trump is a great advocate for our ideas,” Sessions told Bannon. “But can he win?”
“100%,” Bannon said. “If he can stick to your message and personify this stuff, there’s not a doubt in my mind.”
Sessions then noted that the GOP already denied him the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, and that “if I do this endorsement and it doesn’t work, it’s the end of my career in the Republican Party.”
“It’s do or die,” Bannon replied. “This is it. This is the moment.”
That moment was just days before what are known as the “SEC” primaries — a series of primary contests concentrated throughout the South. Bannon told Sessions that his endorsement could push Trump over the hump in many of those contests and essentially seal up the Republican nomination.
“Okay, I’m all-in,” Sessions said. “But if he doesn’t win, it’s over for me.”
No wonder Sessions is refusing to step down as Attorney General.
It looks like today is going to be another day of fast-breaking news. I hope I can keep myself from getting as stressed-out as I was yesterday. What stories are you following?